Four Overlooked Literary Classics

Join Raymond Fleischmann, author of How Quickly She Disappears, for a list of four literary novels that have stood the test of time and deserve a larger readership. BONUS: Sign in and comment on the post for a chance to win a copy of How Quickly She Disappears.

When some readers hear the word “literary,” they begin thinking “boring.” Slow-paced. Low-stakes. Unexciting. And sometimes that’s true. In the quest for artistic expression and resonance, it can be easy for a writer to value style over substance and create a novel that’s simultaneously beautiful but somehow dull.

There’s a sweet spot, I think, in which a novel can be both elegant in its expression and utterly captivating in its plot. Here are four literary classics that fit that bill and deserve a wider readership:

The Pedersen Kid by William H. Gass

Included within Gass’ 1968 story collection In the Heart of the Heart of the Country, this novella is a masterful study of first-person perspective, location, and suspense. Alternatingly madcap and deadly serious, it tells the story of a snowed-in family in rural North Dakota. Jorge, the adolescent narrator, is the son of an abusive alcoholic and a doting mother, whose family is rounded-out by a hired farm hand named Hans, who feels more or less like a big brother to Jorge. In the midst of a snowstorm, a neighboring child—the Pedersen kid—arrives at Jorge’s home half-dead, half-frozen, and claiming that his family has been ruthlessly murdered by a man with yellow gloves. Jorge, his father, and Hans set out in the snow to investigate, and what follows is a slightly surreal story of terror, family dysfunction, and Jorge’s coming-of-age.

 

The Assistant by Bernard Malamud

In my humble opinion, Malamud is one of the greatest American writers of the mid-20th century, and it’s baffling and a bit tragic that he seems to be falling by the wayside. Mostly known for his novel The Natural, which of course was adapted into the 1984 movie starring Robert Redford, Malamud’s second novel The Assistant is an underrated masterpiece in a myriad of ways. Originally published in 1957, it tells the story of Morris Bober, a destitute grocery store owner who’s violently robbed by two masked gunmen. Morris is badly injured in the attack, and so he soon hires an assistant to help out with the store: a young drifter named Frank, who indeed quickly improves the store’s patronage. Malamud’s novel is at once a delicate study of Jewish-American life in the 1950s and a slow-burning drama of violence, domestic realism, and parent-child relationships.

 

So Long, See You Tomorrow by William Maxwell

Perhaps my favorite book on this list, this 1980 short novel by the late William Maxwell is one of those books that’s rewarding to read over and over again. It’s delicate and heart-wrenching all at once, and it’s sorely under-read. Its premise is fairly simple: From many years distant, it tells the multi-layered story of a first-person narrator who befriends the son of a murderer in small-town Illinois. There’s so much that I admire about this novel, but to offer the shorthand: It’s a gut-wrenchingly realistic character study, and it’s one that’s carefully designed to reward multiple readings. It’s one of those books that makes you pause after reading the final line. You deflate, as the whole the book and its resonance washes over you.

 

The Power and the Glory by Graham Greene

Initially released in 1940, The Power and the Glory’s narrative style feels surprisingly modern. Engaging from the first page, it tells the story of an unnamed Catholic “whisky priest” living in an isolated region of Mexico in the 1930s. During this era, the Mexican government was in conflict with the Catholic church — you can read more about the Cristero War online — and in the whisky priest’s state this conflict is taken especially seriously, meaning that Catholicism is effectively outlawed. The novel’s main character is a priest on-the-run, struggling at once with his faith, alcoholism, and his perilous circumstance. Greene’s writing is supremely readable, and the plot is often exciting, suspenseful, and unexpected.


About How Quickly She Disappears by Raymond Fleischmann:

It’s been twenty years since Elisabeth’s twin sister, Jacqueline, disappeared without a trace. Now thirty-year-old Elisabeth is living far from home in a small Alaskan town. She’s in a loveless marriage and has a precocious young daughter she loves more than anything but who reminds her too much of her long-missing sister.

But then Alfred, a dangerous stranger with a plan of his own, arrives in town and commits an inexplicable act of violence. And he offers a startling revelation: He knows exactly what happened to Elisabeth’s sister, but he’ll reveal this truth only if she fulfills his three requests.

Increasingly isolated from her neighbors and imprisoned by the bitter cold and her own obsession, Elisabeth can almost hear her sister’s voice saying, Come and find me. And so she will, even if it means putting herself—and her family—in danger.


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Comments

  1. John Smith

    I’ve only read Malamud’s “The Natural.” Thanks for the heads-up on these classics!

  2. Write My Essay UK

    Great work & great post. I am really inspired by it.

  3. Shirley Evans

    Sounds so, so good!

  4. Sally Schmidt

    Thanks for the suggestions. I haven’t read any of these but will rectify that soon.

  5. Burma Turner

    Very interesting list, I will check these out!

  6. Anne

    Fascinating and thought provoking post. I enjoy the classics which are memorable and unforgettable. Bernard Malamud’s novels are treasures which I enjoyed many years ago. Graham Greene’s are intriguing and unique. I would love to read your novel. Thanks.

  7. Joanne Mielczarski

    I would love to win a copy of this book. Thanks for the chance.

  8. Anita Sue Hamilton

    Classic books are great to lean about.

  9. Kezia King

    Wow! These are all new to me, but they look interesting. Thanks!

  10. carloshmarlo

    I’ve always had trouble getting into Greene’s books. I think I’d enjoy a bit more Malamud though, Thanks for the reminder. crs(at)codedivasites(dot)com

  11. elvinoray

    Looks great 🙂

  12. Alicia Haney

    Your book sounds very intriguing and like a very good page turner! I would love to read it. I love the cover. You are a new author to me. Thanks for the chance. Have a Great week. God Bless you.

  13. Alice Glover

    The Pedersen Kid sounds the most interesting.

  14. Ruth

    When I was younger I read literary fiction, classics and The Assistant was meaningful and profound. Thanks for this captivating post.

  15. Margie Shaw

    I haven’t read any of the others but am really looking forward to reading How Quickly She Disappears. I think it sounds riveting!

  16. James Watts

    Great choices all — especially William Maxwell’s “So Long, See You Tomorrow.” I discovered this book by chance some 35 years ago, and it has captivated me every time I’ve re-read it.

  17. Jill Carpenter

    I love finding out about authors and books I might never been exposed to except through articles like this one.Thank-you so much.

  18. Tiffany

    These look great

  19. Rachael Pendleton

    Sounds like an interesting book!

  20. Brandy Ybarra

    I’m not saying I immediately checked out a book with The Pedersen Kid in it from my library, but…. I’m not saying I didn’t do it, either. ;D

  21. Padmini Rao

    These books look really interesting.

  22. Tamara Limestahl

    I have had this book on my radar for a while and I would LOVE to read it, review it Amazon and feature it on my book blog, and all of my social media accounts!

  23. Kelly Martin

    Looks like I’ve got a few more books to add to my TBR list!

  24. Karen Hale

    I often wonder how many great books I miss because they don’t get the attention they deserve. I definitely want to check out these!

  25. lasvegasnv

    haven’t read them yet

  26. Sarah

    Looks like some interesting choices!

  27. Roxanna Buck

    I have added these to my must read list now 😊

  28. Kaye Killgore

    I haven’t read any of these, they all sound interesting

  29. Jeana0331

    I have been seeing this book everywhere and I’m intrigued! My kind of book for sure!

  30. LeMinou

    They all sound intriguing. Thanks for the chance.

  31. Christal M

    Looks like a great read!

  32. Linda Taylor-Morgan

    Ah so many books so little time!. They all sound great. Looking forward to reading your lastest .Tks

  33. sue weatherbee

    Gotta love a mystery with twins! Looking forward to this.

  34. Susan T.

    I was not aware of any of these books and now I need to check them out! I have to say that I love the peppy rainbow cover of the William H. Gass book contrasted with the story description. It could not be more inappropriate! Lol!

  35. LINDA COSBY

    I would like to read this.

  36. Desmond Warzel

    Count me in, please!

  37. Diana Hardt

    It sounds like a really interesting book.

  38. Michelle

    Would be awesome to win a copy!

  39. Robin Weatherington

    I wanna win!

  40. Michael Carter

    Sounds great!
    Yes, please enter me in this sweepstakes.
    Thanks —

  41. Stacy

    These all sound interesting! Adding to my TBR list!

  42. lostinastack

    Thanks for the recommendations! I’m looking forward to reading your novel!

  43. John Davis

    I appreciate the metaphor of being trapped not only by severe winter but by relationships. Should serve as an excellent basis for the theme, as suggested in the excellent review also provided.

  44. downeaster

    Four more books to read

  45. Susan Morris

    I have not read any of the books mentioned, but will definitely be looking them up. Thank you!

  46. Erin F

    Looks great!

  47. Brad

    So long, see you tomorrow sounds particularly interesting to me, and I’d love to read How quickly she disappears

  48. CarolT

    I will look into these. I don’t remember reading any of them when they came out.

  49. Dorothy Minor

    I’m always on the hunt for overlooked classics! Thanks for these suggestions.

  50. Beth Talmage

    I hadn’t read this work by William Maxwell, but your description describes my experience with everything else of his that I’ve read. Now I have something to add to my TBR. Thank you.

  51. mkear

    The books listed above all sound interesting. Will have to look for them to read. Would like to read the new book, sounds good.

  52. Dianna Young

    Great suggestions! Sound interesting…I’m in!

  53. Janet Gould

    I love all of those books and can’t wait to read the new one.

  54. Diane Furst

    This is the second time in a few weeks that Graham Greene’s novel has been mentioned to me. I definitely need to look into his work.

  55. Marisa Young

    Interesting book recommendations. I will have to check them out.

  56. Katreviewsbooks

    These sound really good! Thanks for the recs!

  57. Lori Byrd

    Great post and these sound like really great books.

  58. Sherman H.

    Very interesting post and will check out these classics!

  59. shastajjjw15

    Interesting take on judgement of literary; enjoyable read

  60. Alice Glover

    Interesting post. I’d love to read How Quickly She Disappears.

  61. Barbara Raeuber

    The plot sounds terrific!

  62. Amy Smith

    These are going on my reading list.

  63. Gail B Smith

    Sounds like an interesting novel–added to my TBR list

  64. Gail Woodward

    These all sound interesting, and Raymond Fleischmann’s book sounds very exciting too! Thanks.

  65. Mary Woods

    I’m always looking for my next read and these books sound very interesting. Thanks for the suggestions! And How Quickly She Disappears sounds good as well.

  66. Ann Schroder

    Fascinating list. Thanks for the suggestions!

  67. Joni Elmore

    Want to read them all!

  68. NFCarle

    More for my reading list. Thanks!

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